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  • Writer's pictureTenley Sablatzky

How to Preserve Language as it Evolves - The British Library

Today we visited the British library, but first to get there was my first experience at King's Cross Station! For the like, two people, who don't know why that's exciting, it's where Platform 9 and 3/4 is set in the Harry Potter series. Nowadays, because of the HP's popularity, King's Cross has a Harry Potter store, as well as a fake platform 9 and 3/4 to get pictures taken. I bought myself a Ravenclaw scarf, a philosopher's stone (for my brother), and a Deathly Hallows keychain. My only minor disappointment, emphasis on minor, was that when the store staff have people pose for pictures they have you point a wand at the barrier... which isn't how the platform opens in Harry Potter. All that would do is draw attention from the muggles in the station. Anyways, just a minor detail that I found kind of annoying.

Spotting Platform 9 3/4 from a distance while waiting in line

The actual library was equally as impressive (though without the Harry Potter paraphernalia, which, I know, is a bummer). One of the first things you notice when you walk up the main staircase towards the reading room is King George's library. Which, according to our wonderful tour guides for the day, was required to be on display. Before King George died, he wrote that his library would be donated to the British library under the caveat that the library would always be on display. Obviously, for the purposes of preservation, you can't have books that historic constantly available to the general public, so they built a room at the center of the library, surrounded entirely by windows. So that, technically, it is always on display, but the librarians can still keep the collection safe, and pull materials for reader's as they are requested.

King George's library on display at the British Library

This is an amazing story, and brings up an interesting train-of-thought about the many unique and clever ways librarians and archivists are coming up with to best preserve their collections. We later got to see the preservation room, where we talked with Liz Rose, a textile conservator, about the work see does repairing items to the collection. Rose is part of a time that is responsible for the small repairs that need to be done - which for the British Library is anything under ten hours of work. Whereas, many of the conservators at the library bid for the larger preservation projects that can take weeks or even months.

Group Tour at the British Library

It was interesting to here about how conservators, like Rose, think about preservation, and the techniques - both old and modern ones - that they use to keep the items accessible while maintaining the integrity of the original item.

Group Tour at the British Library

After our tour for the day, some of us went to the Writing: Making Your Mark exhibit. Essentially, the exhibit was a walk through of writing from the first hieroglyphics to what the future of writing would look like. This, possibly because I had just learned so much about preservation, sort of all felt related. The writing exhibit showcases how writing and language itself evolves over the years, and what the conservators of the world are trying to do is make sure that we'll still have access to the writings 'of the past in a hundred years.

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